National Park Service

Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN)

CHDN groundwater icon symbol

Groundwater Monitoring

salt flat with water at WHSA
Groundwater is recharged with surface water when flooding occurs, as seen here on the salt flats at White Sands National Monument.

Inventory Reports

Monitoring Reports

Protocol Documents

Vital Signs Included in Protocol

  • Groundwater Quantity

Parks

Project Contacts

Cheryl McIntyre, Physical Scientist
Chihuahuan Desert Network

Colleen Filippone, Hydrologist
NPS Intermountain Region

Project Cooperators

Sonoran Desert Network

Southern Plains Network

Importance

Groundwater is the source of all perennial surface water bodies in the Chihuahuan Desert, including springs, streams, and tinajas. Availability of groundwater, expressed as depth to free water, also has critical consequences for plant community structure and productivity; nutrient, water, and energy flows; and the fauna that depend upon them. In many parts of the American Southwest, long-term drought and human development have led to significant declines in groundwater levels at local and regional scales. All park units in the Chihuahuan Desert Network, except Amistad NRA, obtain potable water from groundwater wells.

Monitoring Objectives

  1. Monitor water table elevations to detect long-term changes in groundwater levels.
  2. Provide data to support interpretation of surface water monitoring results.
  3. Provide data needed to extend regional groundwater data and regional groundwater trends to immediate park locales.
  4. Provide data contributing to an understanding of water balance dynamics at parks, including relationships between groundwater and surface water resources, biota, and climate.
  5. Provide data to support larger-scale water balance efforts by other agencies.
  6. Obtain data for assessing site suitability for riparian habitat.
  7. Document water level elevations to support legal protection of the resource.

Measures

Depth to water, water-level elevation

Management Applications

Many parks are located in areas where routine groundwater monitoring by other agencies does not occur. Groundwater declines often occur gradually, in response to the combined effects of "distributed point sources," such as wells and springs, and "nonpoint sources," such as climate. Documenting the status and trends of groundwater levels will support conceptual models needed to work with regional partners to conserve resources. Locally, groundwater impacts associated with reductions in infiltration and storage (often related to soil loss and changes in surface characteristics) can be directly addressed by management actions aimed at soil conservation and recharge enhancement. Potential groundwater capture related to stream entrenchment can be prevented if identified in the early stages, and groundwater monitoring will allow managers to better understand actual or potential local impacts of park groundwater pumping, where it occurs.

Protocol Status

This protocol is under development. Groundwater data collection began in 2010 in Guadalupe Mountains NP and in 2012 in Big Bend NP. Data collection is scheduled to begin in 2013 in Fort Davis NHS and White Sands NM.

Status and Trends

Status information in Guadalupe Mountains NP is available in annual monitoring reports and briefs (see LOCATION). Insufficient data have been collected for status in Big Bend NP or for trend analysis in either park.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster